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Are You Too Young to Have a Will?

©2011 Attorney Douglas R. Peterson
Except in cases of wealth and privilege where having a proper will is as much a foregone conclusion as one passes into adulthood as is having a higher education, a trust income and a prenuptial agreement, many young adults even after marriage and/or birth of children remain unimpressed with the importance of having a will. This in many cases results from the feeling of immortality or the “it won’t be happening to me any time soon” mentality that naturally comes with youthful enthusiasm and then simply morphs into comfortable procrastination.  After all there will always be time, later for that, right?  For most people, yes, but not for everyone.
What are some of the things you can accomplish with a will, even if you don’t have much in the way of assets to leave behind?  Well, first of all you should challenge that presumption that you won’t have much to leave behind. Often there is life insurance, as well as group life insurance and other employment benefits that can result in considerable assets to be passed on at death.  There may be a future inheritance.  There may be the proceeds of a lawsuit.  If you are unmarried, then unless you have named beneficiaries, your assets are going to your heirs at law by intestacy, most likely your parents, if still living, otherwise your siblings, and beyond that, it can get complicated. You have the ability through a will to name just some of those relatives, other relatives, or close friends, partners or even a school or charities or important causes. If you also have a lot of debt to leave behind, you need to decide either how to arrange for its payment, or, how protection of your assets is to be accomplished.
If you are married, you have most likely named your spouse as beneficiary of all the insurance and other benefits (are you positive you have?).  What if you are not married but partners with or without children?  What rights will your unmarried partner have? And what happens if you are both killed in a simultaneous death situation?  Assume you have children, are they old enough and competent enough to handle it? If not, who will be involved? If they are minors, who will care for them as guardians? You can provide trusts in your will, name trustees and name guardians.  While you are at it, you can make it a standby guardianship in case you are both not killed simultaneously but merely incapacitated or inadvertently detained in some foreign country.
Does your spouse or partner have children from a prior marriage or relationship? If so you could provide how they will or won’t figure into the picture. Through appropriate provisions you can both prevent an ex from assuming control of such a child’s assets and preserve them for future education and other needs.
Most importantly, having a proper will gives you a starting point to consider future changes and occurrences in your life so that you may make appropriate responses and revisions. If you and your spouse or partner are not in agreement as to potential guardians, trustees, or even the ultimate disposition of assets, it is critical to reach an agreement so that there will not be family disputes that could negatively impact your children or other family members, spouses,  partners and friends after you are gone.